Sunday, June 30, 2013

M is for Ed McBain

I recently read two Ed McBain novels: The Mugger and The Pusher. These are the 2nd and 3rd in a series, following the first book, Cop Hater. Since my theme for the Crime Fiction Aphabet 2013 meme is police procedurals, I had to include Ed McBain and his 87th Precinct novels.

Ed McBain was a pseudonym of Evan Hunter (October 15, 1926 – July 6, 2005) . This pseudonym was used for his series of novels about the cops in the 87th Precinct in Isola (a thinly disguised New York). Evan Hunter was born Salvatore Lambino; he legally changed his name to Evan Hunter in 1952. Per Mike Ashley, in The Mammoth Encyclopedia of Modern Crime Fiction: "The name Ed McBain was concocted to cover the author's less 'sophisticated' material, keeping his more significant pen-name, Evan Hunter, for serious mainstream novels."

I had read nothing at all by Ed McBain until about a year ago, when I read Cop Hater. I enjoyed that novel, which was fortunate since I had already purchased over ten books in the series in anticipation of reading the whole series ... eventually.

The titles of the books I read are fairly indicative of the crimes investigated. In The Mugger, the 87th Precinct is plagued with a mugger who only attacks women, always hits them, and always leaves them saying: "Clifford thanks you, Madam." Eventually, a murder occurs which could be connected. In The Pusher, a very young drug addict has committed suicide. But there is some evidence at the scene that is confusing to the cops following the case.

The 87th Precinct books give the details of an investigation, but along the way we get glimpses into the policemen's lives. The policemen involved seem like real people, not idealized versions of detectives. Some are bullies, some are more dedicated to looking for the truth. Throughout The Mugger, McBain intersperses items from the investigation: fingerprint sheet, police forms, even a map of a crime scene. As the crime is investigated in The Pusher, the complex steps to evaluate the small amounts of usable evidence found at a crime scene are described. Yet even though this may seem dry, the result in each case is a very entertaining book that moves at a brisk pace.

I am not a great fan of long doses of descriptive prose in a novel, but some of McBain's descriptive passages are just extraordinary. And the miracle is... he does not overdo them.

Cop Hater is set in the summer, during a heat wave. The oppressive weather figures in the crime and the investigation. When reading these two books back to back I noticed that The Mugger is set in the fall, and The Pusher is set in the winter.  This might have been because The Pusher starts with a bang that you cannot miss:
Winter came in like an anarchist with a bomb.
Wild-eyed, shrieking, puffing hard, it caught the city in cold, froze the marrow and froze the heart.
The wind roared under eaves and tore around corners, lifting hats and lifting skirts, caressing warm thighs with icy-cold fingers. The citizens blew on their hands and lifted their coat collars and tightened their mufflers. They had been enmeshed in the slow-dying lethargy of autumn, and now winter was upon them, rapping their teeth with knuckles of ice.
Both of the books I read were comparatively short in length, each under 160 pages. Reading these two books was like reading one of the longer books I have read recently. I understand that the later books were longer, but I am enjoying these shorter ones while they last.

On a personal note, in the 80's and the 90's, I had a co-worker who loved the 87th Precinct novels. She knew I liked mysteries, and she was always suggesting that I read the latest book he had published. And I was always declining to try the series. Now, I look back and wish I had listened to her. On the other hand, now I have the whole series ahead of me and a lot of books and entertainment to look forward to. 

The Crime Fiction Alphabet is sponsored by Mysteries in Paradise.  Please visit this post to check out other entries for this letter.

Other reviews here:
At Tipping My Fedora, Sergio is reading and reviewing the series in order.
At Yet Another Crime Fiction Blog, Keishon reviews The Pusher.
At Confessions of a Mystery Novelist..., Margot puts the spotlight on The Cop Hater.

These books are also submitted for the Vintage Mystery Challenge in the Leave It to the Professionals category, which includes books featuring cops, private eyes, secret service, etc.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Mount TBR Reading Challenge: 2nd Quarter Summary

For the second year, I am participating in the Mount TBR Reading Challenge. I have more unread books than I will ever read, and this challenge motivates me to work away at the older books in my stacks, boxes, and bookshelves. The host, Bev at My Reader's Block, is calling for the second quarterly check-in post. Check out other summary posts here.

This quarter I have read 13 books that count toward the Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2013. Combined with the 15 I read in the first quarter, I have read a total of 28 books toward my goal of 36 books. So, I am on target.

The books I have read in April, May, June are: 
  1. The Stately Home Murder by Catherine Aird
  2. The Ransom Game by Howard Engel
  3. Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss
  4. Murder on the Links by Agatha Christie
  5. A Fatal Grace by Louise Penny
  6. Ten Second Staircase by Christopher Fowler
  7. Silence of the Rain by Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza
  8. Fell Purpose by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles
  9. Kaleidoscope by J. Robert Janes
  10. Death Wore White by Jim Kelly
  11. Daemons Are Forever by Simon R. Green
  12. The Mugger by Ed McBain
  13. The Pusher by Ed McBain
My favorite character in this set of books was Inspector Espinosa of the First Precinct in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, who appears in Silence of the Rain by Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza. He is a book lover and a philosopher.

I purchased Silence of the Rain in late 2009, so I have had that book about 3 and a half years. The book I have had longest in this set is Murder on the Links by Agatha Christie. I purchased that book at the Planned Parenthood book sale in September 2005 (the event I wait for each year). I have been collecting copies of Agatha Christie books that long and have just in the last year begun my project of re-reading most of her books.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Once Upon a Time VII: Wrap Up

I read only four books for the Once Upon a Time Challenge at Stainless Steel Droppings, although my goal was to read five books. The event included reading or viewing from four broad categories: Fairy Tale, Folklore, Fantasy and Mythology. I stuck mostly with fantasy although I guess Princess Bride is also of the fairy tale type of story.

This was the first time I had participated, and my goal was to dabble in fantasy after a long break. I enjoyed all the books I read and some of them were spectacular. You can check out the Review Site where participants posted links to any book or screen posts related to this event.

The books I read for this event were... 

Although I don't enjoy fantasy in general as much as other genres, I did discover more about what I like and dislike in fantasy fiction, and have a lot of of fantasy books I plan to read in the next year or two.

My favorite read for the challenge was Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch. That one is a blend of fantasy and mystery and it has all the elements of a police procedural. I was pulled in by the cover art, but I would not have been open to paranormal elements in a mystery in the past.

The one book that I most regret not reading is The Black Company by Glen Cook. I think I would like that book. If I don't read it before then, I will definitely include it in the next Once Upon a Time Challenge reading.

Thanks to Carl V. Anderson at Stainless Steel Droppings for hosting this challenge.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

L is for The Last Policeman

The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters is my submission for the Crime Fiction Alphabet at Mysteries in Paradise this week. Please visit the post at Mysteries in Paradise to check out other entries for the letter L.

Description from the publisher's website (Quirk Books):
The Last Policeman presents a fascinating portrait of a pre-apocalyptic United States. Industry is grinding to a halt. Most people have abandoned their jobs. But not Hank Palace. As our story opens, he’s investigating the latest suicide in a city that’s full of suicides—only this one feels wrong. This one feels like homicide. And Palace is the only one who cares. What’s the point in solving murders if we’re all going to die?
This is two books in one. Half the time, the book is describing the inevitable effects that an asteroid heading towards earth is having on the populace. Half the time, the story follows a policeman investigating a crime, as if it has just as much importance now as when everything was normal. Half the time, this reader was considering how foreknowledge of an apocalyptic event would affect me personally, how I would live those last months and why the characters in this book made their choices. The other half of the time, I was reading the book as a straight police procedural. And the book succeeds in both areas.

Detective Hank Palace has just recently been made a detective.  My  theory for why he is so dogged in pursuing the crime (or possible crime) is because this is what he has always wanted to do, and he knows there won't be much time left to do it. Not only is the normal fabric of life falling apart, the police department is decimated. There are fewer employees in any role in the department, and there is very little oversight as to how the job gets done. The other detectives either don't believe the suicide is actually murder, or don't care whether the murder gets caught, or both.

Palace follows normal police procedure where he can. The medical examiner is still working and taking her job seriously, so he does have the resources of some forensics analysis. He does interview coworkers, relatives, witnesses. And he has more leeway because the laws have changed. In some cases, laws are more lax; in other cases, more strict. It affects the investigation.

The detective's character is the most fully developed. His backstory is doled out in pieces, a technique I like. There are other interesting characters who are peripherally involved in the case. The reactions and behaviors of other detectives illustrate the uncertainty that everyone deals with on a daily basis in this environment. The author has done an excellent job of creating his version of what the world could be like in this situation.

Another thing to note: I have had problems in the past adjusting to reading books which use present tense to tell the story. The Last Policeman is the first book using present tense that has been a comfortable read for me. This could be just getting use to the idea, but I credit the author's talented storytelling. It took me a while to even notice.

Other reviews:
My husband's review at Goodreads.
At In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel.
At Crimepieces.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Daemons Are Forever: Simon R. Green

The first line in this book is:
The name's Bond. Shaman Bond. The very secret agent.
This should give the reader a hint: This book spoofs the James Bond series, and it is going to be humorous.

Shaman Bond is the assumed name of Edwin Drood when he is living in London, in what we know as the real world. Edwin comes from a very large clan, the Droods, who live in a compound outside of London.

As Edwin, or Eddie, describes it:
The world isn’t what you think it is. Hell, even London isn’t what you think it is. There are monsters around every corner, creatures in every shadow, and more dark conspiracies and secret wars going on than you can shake a really big stick at. You never get to know about this because the Drood family has field agents everywhere, to keep the lid on things and make sure everyone plays nice. When they don’t, we kill them. We don’t believe in second chances; we believe in stamping out fires before they can spread.

My family has been keeping the world safe for almost two thousand years. We’re very good at it.
Daemons Are Forever (2008) is the second book in a series of seven books (the Secret Histories series). This is the type of series where a lot happens in the first book, and if I describe much of what happens in the second one, it can spoil the story for you.

On the other hand, this book can easily be read as a stand-alone. There is plenty of rehashing of the history of Edwin Drood and his family, and what has happened in the last book. I was grateful for all of that because it had been years since I read the first one and I needed a refresher course. Others who have read the books closer together have complained about this very element.

I found this to be a very entertaining book, and I do admire Simon R. Green's storytelling. But I will be honest and say that fantasy is just not my thing.

I did some research into the elements of fantasy fiction to try to understand why I don't generally care for fantasy. I have a wonderful book called Genreflecting: A Guide to Popular Reading Interests (Sixth Edition), which is a 500 page overview of various genres and their elements, and suggestions for reading from these genres. It is aimed at librarians, of course, but I love browsing through it.

Genreflecting (and other sources I read) defines fantasy works as being set in an internally consistent created world and including magic or paranormal elements. In some cases, the created world may be hidden from the real world setting (as much as possible); in other cases, it is the only world.

Both Daemons Are Forever and Rivers of London (which I reviewed recently) are cases where the real world exists pretty much like our world, and the world with fantastic elements and creatures is separate, or at least hidden.

I preferred Rivers of London because the protagonist is of the real world and just getting introduced to the idea that there is a world with magic, ghosts and vampires that needs to be controlled. In Daemons Are Forever, Eddie Drood's world is teeming with supernatural creatures, and he coexists and makes deals with them to save the world. But that is just me; I think a lot of people who enjoy fantasy would really like this book and the series.

My son introduced me to this series. He thought I might like it because of the James Bond element. I will be continuing the series through the third book, because I have it in house. My son is that far into the series. From what I have read, the series was intended to be a trilogy, but was popular enough to justify adding more books to the series. If we find more in the series, we will continuing reading it further.

I will leave you with this description of the Secret Histories series, from a review at by Michael M. Jones. The review is of the 6th book in the series, and the reviewer is a big fan of all of Simon R. Green's books:
The Secret Histories has always been Green’s attempt to blend his usual urban fantasy material—the Nightside books, Ghost Finders, Drinking Midnight Wine, and so on—with a James Bond attitude. Rather unsubtly, Eddie Drood’s secret identity is “Shaman Bond,” and the book titles are also a dead giveaway. However, Live and Let Drood doesn’t just evoke James Bond, it also conjures up the spirit of The Avengers (British version) with the Department of the Uncanny. (Characters named Patrick and Diana show up, obviously named for Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg, AKA Steed and Peel and even I noticed that…)

I’ve long held that Green’s books make for excellent popcorn reading. They’re widescreen adventures, blockbusters with unlimited budgets and absolutely no restraint or sense of decorum. The body counts are high, the stakes higher, the sense of wonder undeniable. They defy genre, incorporating elements of science fiction, fantasy, espionage, mystery, and more. Green’s characters always have the best lines, the best toys, and the best poses.

This was my fourth book for the Once Upon a Time Challenge at Stainless Steel Droppings. I had committed to reading five books for the challenge, but did not make that goal. I did discover more about what I like and dislike in fantasy fiction, and have a lot of of fantasy books I plan to read in the next year or two.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

A New Cat in Our Life: Rosie

We found a new cat about a week and a half ago. Meet Rosie!

This is my husband's description of our cat search:
On Saturday we went first to the Humane Society and then to County Animal Services.

The latter had a large number of cats for adoption and a large number of people looking at them.

We kept coming back to look at a young (1.5 years) mostly-white number with calico splotches and tabby head/tail and it was her that we went home with.

Her name is Rosie and she has the largest ears I've seen on a small cat.

She is fairly subdued but affectionate and chatty. Interestingly, she does not bite. At all.

She's a keeper.
Some notes of interest. At least to me.

On the biting, our first cat, Bink, did bite. Not ferociously or meanly. But if she did not like how you touched her, watch out.

Rosie doesn't bite, but she has attacked our feet while we were sleeping...or at least trying to sleep. And she has this whirling dervish behavior (on the bed, at night) I have never seen before.

I think she is settling in. We have never had a cat this young before. It feels like having a new baby in the house, and I am getting no sleep. I hope that will change.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

K is for Jim Kelly

I am featuring the author Jim Kelly for the Crime Fiction Alphabet meme this week. Kelly is the author of two mystery series. One is set in the Cambridgeshire Fens and features a journalist, Philip Dryden. The second series is a police procedural series. In both series, the landscape and its effect on people is very evident. Please visit the post at Mysteries in Paradise to check out other entries for the letter K.

The book I am featuring is Death Wore White. This is a police procedural set on the north Norfolk coast. Detective Inspector Peter Shaw and Detective Sergeant George Valentine are investigators for the West Norfolk Constabulary.

George Valentine formerly was a DI who was booted down a grade for mishandling a case. The partners resent and distrust each other, not an original storyline. This time, the reason for the strain in their relationship is that Valentine was Shaw's father's partner, and they were working on a case that went wrong when Shaw's father was forced to retire and Valentine was demoted and sent out to postings in undesirable areas.
Some joker in admin, thought Shaw, some old lag who knew the past and didn’t care about the future. They needed a new partner for Shaw, who at thirty‐three years of age was the force’s youngest DI, the whiz‐kid with the fancy degree and a father once tipped to be the next chief constable. And they’d come up with George Valentine – a living relic of a different world, where cynical coppers waged a losing war against low life on the street. A man who’d been the best detective of his generation until one mistake had put him on a blacklist from which he was struggling to escape. A man whose career trajectory looked like a brick falling to earth.

It was their first week as partners; already – for both of them – it seemed like a lifetime.
There are three murders that take place in a small area. The detectives make an assumption that the cases are related. As they discover relationships between persons involved in each crime, the more they feel that they are following the right track. One of the murders takes place on coastal road, in a car, trapped by a fallen tree, with a line of cars behind it. This could be described as an "impossible crime", with a body surrounded by snow, and the only set of footprints accounted for. There was a witness who saw a person walk up to the car and leave when the victim was still alive.

This story includes all the typical elements in a true modern police procedural. The detectives make good and frequent use of forensics, and they follow up leads and interview many suspects. The younger detective has education but less experience, and is more interested in forensics. The veteran detective is more of a maverick, more willing to bend the rules.

In the background are the questions surrounding the last case that Valentine worked on with Shaw's father. Peter Shaw's boss is very sensitive at any mention of the case because he feels like it reflected on the whole department and left them with a bad reputation.

I enjoyed reading this novel, although I enjoyed the last half more than the first half. I guess it is better to end well, than to start with a bang and then fizzle. I have seen that happen in many novels.

At 390 pages, I think the novel could have been shorter. The first half sets up the crimes and gives us all the witnesses, bystanders (so to speak), interested parties. With a crime scene that involves a line of vehicles isolated on a rarely used road, we have a relatively large set of people involved, and theoretically any could have committed the crime. And then there are the two other crimes, one at a nearby beach. This first half is somewhat dry and I did not get involved much with any of the characters.

At the midpoint of the book, we start getting some information from the point of view of the various persons who have been touched by these events, and at that point I began to get more invested in the outcome. The resolution was complex and satisfying.

Jim Kelly won the CWA Dagger in the Library 2006, awarded by the Crime Writers’ Association in the UK. It "is awarded to 'the author of crime fiction whose work is currently giving the greatest enjoyment to readers'; authors are nominated by UK libraries and Readers' Groups and judged by a panel of librarians." Other authors who have gotten this award are: Robert Barnard, Stephen Booth, Colin Cotterill, Ariana Franklin, and Mo Hayder. At the time of winning this award, Kelly had only published three books in the Philip Dryden series and the fourth was coming out soon.

Kelly now has written seven novels in the Philip Dryden series and four in the Shaw / Valentine series. Kelly is a journalist and his father was a police detective, so his main characters feel very authentic in their jobs. I have read the first book in the Philip Dryden series, a few years ago. I will read more books in both series when I have the chance.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Rivers of London: Ben Aaronovitch

Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch is the third fantasy book that I read for the Once Upon a Time Challenge at Stainless Steel Droppings. I enjoyed this book very much. It was only the second book I read this month, but I suspect it will be my favorite for the month.

It is cross-genre fiction, blending fantasy and crime fiction. Most often I have seen it categorized as Urban Fantasy. The main character is a policeman and is actively investigating crimes so it also fits the definition of a police procedural.

Late last year, my husband, son, and I were discussing what constitutes an urban fantasy novel. "Urban" says set in a city. "Fantasy" says unreal, abnormal, supernatural. But the urban setting cannot be new to fantasy. So why do we now have a new sub-genre?

When I looked it up on the internet, it seems I am not the only one confused about this topic. Some said urban fantasies should have thriller elements.  Some said an element of romance is required. One definition that made sense to me indicated that situations in urban fantasy novels take place in the real world we are used to, but fantastical or supernatural elements come into play, and possibly need to be controlled.

And, actually the term "urban fantasy" has been used since the 1980's to describe types of fiction. I guess it has just become more popular now. And yet, not easily defined.

I was first attracted to this series by the book covers... the UK covers, specifically. The first review I read had a great and very succinct description, so I am going to use it. This description is from Simon's Book Blog:
...a police procedural with a difference: Peter Grant is a trainee PC in the Metropolitan Police who discovers that he can see ghosts, and is immediately seconded to a tiny division of the force (tiny, as in - Peter brings the staff total up to two) which deals with crimes which have a supernatural element.
I was intrigued by the police procedural element and had to give the book a try. Peter Grant is a probationary constable in the Metropolitan Police Service in London. He wants to be assigned to the CID, but it looks like he is headed for the dreaded Case Progression Unit, where he will be stuck doing paperwork. But right before this happens, he meets a ghost who witnessed a murder. And that leads to working with Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale, in a specialist unit that deals with ghosts, spirits, vampires, you name it, when they are disrupting the peace in London.

This book was published with the title, Midnight Riot, in the US. The author has published two more books in the series, and a fourth, Broken Homes, is due to be published in the UK in July of this year and in the US in February 2014.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

J is for J. Robert Janes

Kaleidoscope by J. Robert Janes is my submission for the Crime Fiction Alphabet at Mysteries in Paradise this week. Please visit the post at Mysteries in Paradise to check out other entries for the letter J.

Janes is a Canadian writer of crime fiction and children's books. Per, publisher of his latest books:
J. Robert Janes (b. 1935) is a mystery author best known for writing historical thrillers. Born in Toronto, he holds degrees in mining and geology, and worked as an engineer, university professor, and textbook author before he began writing fiction. ... In 1992, Janes published Mayhem, the first in the long-running St-Cyr and Kohler series for which he is best known. These police procedurals set in Nazi-occupied France have been praised for the author’s attention to historical detail, as well as their swift-moving plots. Bellringer is the thirteenth in the series.
The Story

The  book is set in Occupied France, in December of 1942. It is the story of two men who are on opposite sides but must work together. Gestapo Haupsturmführer Hermann Kohler and  his partner, Sûreté Chief Inspector Jean-Louis St-Cyr have been thrown together by circumstances to investigate crimes.  They have developed a trusting relationship, but know that due to the realities of war, it will probably not end well. One side or the other will be the victor, and then where will their loyalties lie?

The two detectives are sent from Paris to a small village in Provence to investigate the death of a woman who is still lying on the hillside when they arrive. She has been shot with an arrow from a crossbow, thus limiting the suspects to those who can shoot with that weapon accurately. The victim turns out to be Anne-Marie Buemondi, who lives in Cannes but has come to the area to visit her daughter, who has health problems. The plot gets complicated very quickly, with suspicions that the death is related in some way to the activities of the maquis, the French Resistance.

My Take

I enjoyed the book, but I was confused by the narrative and the jerkiness of the plot as I read at least the first half of the book. There were references to past events and other characters that I did not understand. It turns out that Jean-Louis is having trouble remembering the details of a traumatic event that occurred several years earlier, which explains the choppiness of the segments, but reading it was still confusing.

Having read the first two books in the series (several years ago), I had some knowledge of the background of the story, yet this did not help too much. The relationships the detectives have with others (family, superiors) are covered pretty sketchily in this book, compared to the previous two, to give more time to the story, which was fine with me but might seem strange if you haven't read any earlier books. This is not spy fiction, but in some ways it reads like spy fiction. With the French authorities working with the occupiers, there is always distrust and no one ever knows who is on what side.

I have read reviews by others who had similar concerns re the complexity of the plot and narrative, yet most seem to find the series rewarding. It has a lot to offer. If you read this series, I suggest starting with the first book, which does explain the setup. Hopping around to different books in the series after that may not make that much difference.

In summary, this is an interesting and informative book about a time in history that I keep coming back to in my mystery (and non-fiction) reading. I have four more in the series in my TBR stacks, and plan to keep reading through the series. I hope to read the next one soon in order to be able to make comparisons.

What Others Say:

Mayhem, the first book in the series, was featured at The Rap Sheet as a "Book You Have to Read." Here is is what Cara Black, author of the Aimée Leduc series set in modern-day Paris, France, says in that post:
It’s impossible to praise too highly the subtle ways in which author Janes shows the twisted times of World War II in Europe through the stories of his two policemen, both of whom are suffering in their private lives.
J. Kingston Pierce comments at The Rap Sheet on Salamander, the fourth book in the series:
Amazingly, those onetime enemies had not only been getting along since their first adventure in Mayhem (aka Mirage), published in 1992, but had become a rather crack team of crime solvers--often to the disgruntlement of their Gestapo superiors in Paris, who see them as far too independent. While war storms across the face of Europe, it’s up to St-Cyr and Kohler to solve the more everyday but nonetheless disturbing crimes--the assaults, the thefts, the occasional cross-bow killings. Misdeeds outside the scope of state-sanctioned battle.
Additional Tidbits:

Carousel, the second book in the series, is another complex story of three connected murders that St-Cyr and Kohler are charged with solving. I am including an image of the cover for the Soho edition. I like this style of Soho covers in general, and this one is particularly nice.

A fourteenth St-Cyr and Kohler Investigation, Tapestry, has just been published on June 4th, 2013. It and Bellringer are available as eBooks or in paperback.

Janes also recently published a non-series novel, The Hunting Ground, set in Europe in the years immediately after World War II.

This is my thirteenth and final book for the Canadian Book Challenge 6.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Funk Zone

A few months ago, we were walking through the Funk Zone of Santa Barbara to take photos of the art on the walls of buildings. The art is changed every few months.

This door was one of my favorites on this visit.

Because of the detail shown in the next photo. You can click on any picture to see a larger version.

A closer look at some of the murals.

Almost all of Santa Barbara is beautiful, and offers lots of tourist attractions and scenic views. The Funk Zone is an unofficial area near to the beach that has retained its original charm. There are surf shops, a quirky surf museum, and lots of wine tasting spots. But we go for the murals.

There were three of us on this outing, so I don't know who took each photo, but all photos were processed by my husband.

Monday, June 3, 2013

I is for Viktor Arnar Ingólfsson

House of Evidence by Viktor Arnar Ingólfsson is my submission for the Crime Fiction Alphabet at Mysteries in Paradise this week. Please visit the post at Mysteries in Paradise to check out other entries for the letter I.

Ingólfsson is an Icelandic writer of crime fiction. This book was translated by Andrew Cauthery and Björg Árnadóttir.

The book is set in 1973 in Reykjavik, Iceland. The death being investigated is that of a middle-aged man who has been shot in his home, a very fine home which was built in the early twentieth century. There are several very unusual things about this murder that hinder the police investigation. This novel tells the story of the dead man, Jacob Kieler Junior, but we also learn of his father's life, which is told to us partly through diary entries. I found this to be a very interesting approach. I like that the story of both men is revealed gradually.

The police crew is Johann Palsson, a member of the detective division who has forensic training; Halldór Benjaminsson, a senior officer in the detective division; Erlendur Haraldsson, a business-school graduate who has expertise in financial matters; Hrefna Hilmarsdóttir, a female detective who often interviews people; Egill Ingólfsson, a member of the team who is often too rough with people; Marteinn Karlsson, an inexperienced new recruit who primarily assists Johann in the forensic work.

What did I like about House of Evidence?

I enjoyed the way the story was told. The story is relayed partially through excerpts from a diary which was written between the years of 1910 and 1945. The remainder is the story of the investigation of a murder, and it follows the members of the detective division as they perform their duties. I enjoyed the details of the investigation related to forensics especially.

Through Jacob Kieler Senior's diaries, we get a look at the Danish-Icelandic relationship and the movements toward separation from Denmark. It also covers the years of World War II. Jacob Senior spent much time in other countries, giving him a good command of both English and German. In fact, he marries an English woman. I liked the picture of Germany's rise to power from his limited point of view.

At the beginning of the book there is an excerpt from The Icelandic Encyclopedia.
Iceland's first and only railway was built in Reykjavik in 1913, with two locomotives running between Öskjuhlíð and the shore (a distance of two miles), conveying materials for construction projects at Reykjavik harbor from 1913 through 1917. It was decommissioned in 1928, and the last tracks were removed during the Second World War.
There are currently no railways in Iceland. Jacob Senior was a man very interested in bringing railways to Iceland. It affects many of his decisions he makes in his life. The author has a B.Sc. degree in civil engineering and this may be why all the information about Jacob Senior's education and his plans for building a railway seem very authentic.

The book has a map of Iceland with proposed railroad routes connecting cities. It was not that easy to read in the eBook format of the book, but if you are familiar with Iceland you can follow it. If you click on either of the maps, you can see more detail.

The second map was available on the Wikipedia page for Iceland.

Needless to say, I learned more about Iceland than I already knew, which was not much. Another reason to read more books set in other countries, written by authors from those countries.

It is unusual for me to read standalone crime novels; usually I read books in series. Consequently I was wishing that this book would be followed by further books featuring the various police staff. There were times when I felt that the author's writing was a bit bland and dry, but since I was enjoying reading the story throughout, it wasn't much of a detraction.

Some other reviews of this book:

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Reading in May and Crime Fiction Pick of the Month

In May I read a total of nine books. This month, I read one non-fiction book. All the other books I read were crime fiction. A very good reading month.

The non-fiction book I read this month was Origins of the Specious: Myths and Misconceptions of the English Language. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and hope to write a book review of it sometime soon. So you can get a taste of what it is like...I am including an excerpt from the book description at Goodreads:
In Origins of the Specious, word mavens Patricia T. O’Conner and Stewart Kellerman reveal why some of grammar’s best-known “rules” aren’t—and never were—rules at all. This playfully witty, rigorously researched book sets the record straight about bogus word origins, politically correct fictions, phony français, fake acronyms, and more.
Of the eight mysteries I read in May, none were vintage mysteries, which is unusual. I usually aim for at least one vintage mystery a month. I did read the first three chapters in A Talent to Deceive by Robert Barnard, which is an appreciation of Agatha Christie and her works. I posted some comments on that book here.

Three of the mystery authors I read this month were new to me: Viktor Arnar Ingólfsson, Maureen Jennings, and Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza. One author was an old favorite, that I had not read for several years: Cynthia Harrod-Eagles. I read two books that were translated from another language, and one e-book.

Several authors I read this month are Canadian writers, as I was working on finishing up the Canadian Book Challenge 6. That challenge ends in June, and a new challenge begins July 1, 2014. If you are interested, check out the 7th Annual Canadian Book Challenge HERE.

I have been meaning to read more books by female authors, and this month I got closer to that goal. Half of the mysteries I read were by female authors, and one of the authors of my non-fiction book was female. I have a goal to have a month where I read only books by female authors, but don't know if I can accomplish that anytime soon. Several of my favorite, comfort authors are female, and I could at least do a post featuring those authors sometime.

So, to get to the point of this post. I will start by choosing my favorite crime fiction read of the month. My top read this month was The Silence of the Rain by Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza. This is the first of a police procedural series that stars Inspector Espinosa of the First Precinct in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. This detective is a book lover and a philosopher. His apartment is stacked with books. He stops by used bookstores several times during the story.

The book also has an unusual format. The first section, which makes up about half of the book, is told in third person and sets up the basic story. The middle section is written in first person from the point of view of the detective, so at that point we are just getting what he knows about the event. The smallest section, at the end, returns to third person to tie up all the events, in a sense. I found this to be a compelling read and am eager to continue the series. My review is here.

The mysteries I read this month are:
  1. A Red Herring Without Mustard by Alan Bradley
  2. Except the Dying by Maureen Jennings
  3. A Fatal Grace by Louise Penny
  4. Ten Second Staircase by Christopher Fowler
  5. Silence of the Rain by Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza
  6. Fell Purpose by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles
  7. Murder at the Mendel by Gail Bowen
  8. House of Evidence by Viktor Arnar Ingólfsson
All of the books I read were interesting and enjoyable. In addition to Silence of the Rain, Murder at the Mendel by Gail Bowen (set in Canada) and House of Evidence by Viktor Arnar Ingólfsson (set in Iceland) were especially memorable. Both of those were a little different from the normal mystery story, so I guess I am leaning in that direction right now.

The Crime Fiction Pick of the Month meme is hosted at Mysteries in Paradise. Bloggers link to summary posts for the month, and identify a crime fiction best read of the month. Check out the link here to see the other bloggers picks.